By Jean A. Flanagan
According to recently released statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farming in West Virginia continues to grow. In 2014, cash receipts from farming totaled $832,767,000, a 9 percent increase from 2013.
According to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, there were 22,100 farms in West Virginia totaling 3.6 million acres, the majority of which were small, family-owned and operated.
Poultry and eggs account for the lion’s share of farm cash receipts in the state, totaling nearly $355 million. Of that more than $236 million is from broiler production. The WVDA said West Virginia farmers grew nearly 97 million broilers in 2014.
The poultry industry accounts for nearly 43 percent of the state’s agricultural cash receipts. Hardy County leads the state in total agricultural sales and in broiler production.[private]
Cattle and calves account for the second-most valuable commodity in West Virginia, with more than $254 million in cash receipts in 2014. Hardy County is fourth in the state for number of cattle.
Hogs accounted for a small percentage of the state’s livestock receipts. There are also markets for trout, honey and wool. In fact, according to the USDA, West Virginia ranked 12th in the nation in trout receipts.
Feed crops, namely hay and corn, accounted for more than half the total crop receipts in the state in 2014. While Greenbrier County and Preston County lead the state in hay production, Jefferson and Hardy counties lead the state in corn production. The majority of both commodities are grown to be consumed by livestock and not sold.
A significant market exists for West Virginia fruit, namely apples and peaches. Farmers in the state harvested 2.2 million bushels of apples, which accounted for nearly $12.5 million in cash receipts in 2014. West Virginia peaches produced more than $5 million that same year.
According to the USDA, West Virginia is 16th in the nation for apple receipts and 15th for peach receipts.
Other crops, including mushrooms, accounted for more than $56.6 million.
“There is a growing demand for local food,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick. “We have heard it from individual consumers and from the food distributors we have been working with.
“More and more, farming is a very real career option for our young people. We have the resources and we have the demand. We also desperately need to diversify our state’s economy and agriculture can be a substantial component. Farming is something young people can do for their state and for themselves.”
Helmick also noted that he has been visiting FFA clubs throughout the state to deliver this message directly to students.
“They need to know that this is something they can take pride in doing,” he said. “West Virginia once produced nearly everything it consumed, but outside of poultry and beef, we now produce very little. This is something we at the WVDA are changing, and a big part of our program is to recruit the next generation of farmers.”[/private]